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The Enchanted Garden

Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)

1896, wool embroidered with trimming in metallic, silk, and cotton thread

Why is this work so important?

The figures and style of this outstanding tapestry take us straight back to the Middle Ages, but a Middle Ages with an unreal atmosphere, because steeped in Maillol’s sense of modernity.

Tapestries

In the 1890s, Maillol struck up a friendship with a group of painters called the Nabis, who were overturning the hierarchy of art and getting interested in techniques which at the time were deemed to be minor. The celebrated tapestry series known as “The Lady and the Unicorn” and “Scenes of Court Life”, in the Cluny Museum, was a genuine aesthetic revelation for Maillol. A necessary rebirth at a time when he felt he was no longer able to make progress with his painting. At the time, he confided: “It was through tapestry that I began to do composition”. But back then, the fashion was for as faithful a depiction of reality as possible, and the Manufacture des Gobelins was the dominant force for tapestry. Maillol realised that if he wanted to create a tapestry oeuvre of his own, he had to find a solution: “I had the idea of recreating beautiful ancient tapestry because the Gobelins had brought it to an absolute degree of stupidity”. The restricted use of these colours and the strictly decorative function of tapestry were exactly what Maillol particularly appreciated in medieval tapestry.

In detail

Observe the folds of the dresses worn by the young women, the elegance of the figures, and the subtle interweaving of figures and vegetation. Maillol completely recreated the art of tapestry by restoring its characteristic medieval nobility to it.

Did you know?

In his tapestry workshop in Banyuls, Maillol was hugely demanding: he refused to use commercially available products. To source the wool, which he wanted to be as clean and as pure as possible, he went to buy it directly from the producers, before having it spun by elderly peasant women. To obtain the pigments, he went off collecting plants himself in the hills surrounding Banyuls.